Thursday, October 29, 2009

Quirky Cards

This is a recent assignment I gave to my Creative Writing class, one that seemed to go over pretty well with them:

I handed each student 10 note cards and instructed them to separate the cards into 2 stacks - on 5 of the cards, they were to write down 5 occupations/careers (one per card). On the other 5, they were to write down 5 quirky behaviors (one per card). The occupations and quirky behaviors shouldn't intentionally "match." They should be entirely separate.

Then, the idea is to shuffle the cards and choose one random career and one random quirky behavior, and create a story/scene from that scenario. Sometimes I have the students swap cards, so that they're writing from someone else's ideas. That's always interesting! :-)

Here's an example: The first semester I taught Creative Writing, I had the most delightful 84-year-old woman as a student (she was auditing the course). She was quite proper and formal, but when she read her "card story" aloud, it was a little...surprising. She'd used another student's cards to create a scene in which a man goes through a drive-thru, orders a hamburger, then pulls over to the side and parks. He unwraps the burger and eats the pickles. Then, the cheese. Then, the tomatoes. Then, the meat. And finally, the bun. He wads up the wrapper and throws it on the seat, next to the gun laying there, and thinks ahead in his mind about the woman he's about to go use it on!

After she read the story, we were all a little shocked, and I asked her what the cards had said. She replied with a grin, "A mob hitman who eats his meal one ingredient at a time." Brilliant! Quirky! And, it gave her permission to write a story she probably never would've thought of, on her own. I think she enjoyed it more than any other exercise we did.

And, really, that's the point of the cards - to bring you out of your own head a little and create something unique, something quirky and left-of-center. I think we all need to write something like that once in awhile...


  1. That's an awesome excercise. I wish I had you giving me writing assignments.

    Check out my blog. I gave you an award.

  2. Thanks, Matt! Much appreciated!

  3. Very cool exercise. And I'm glad I found your blog! I've never been a creative writer--I dabble, but basically I'm just a hack lit crit person. Maybe your blog will help me take the plunge...

  4. Oh, and I forgot to tell you--I love Peanuts characters. I wanted to ask if you've seen those strips where Snoopy is writing a novel? I love the one about the "horse person" and the "cow takers." Such a profound comment on the problem of genre...and really funny, too.

  5. Gayle - thanks for the kind words - I think you should definitely take the plunge. Once you do, you won't be able to turn back. Creative writing is addictive! And just from your blog, it's easy to tell you're a very strong writer!

    Funny you should mention Snoopy - I'm sitting here at my desk, staring at a cartoon I had framed - the one where Snoopy's sitting at the typewriter and types one word at a time, then walks away, then types, and walks away - "It...was...a...dark..and...stormy...night." And the last frame says, "Good writing is hard work!" Too cute. And TRUE!

    I found it online! Just posted it as another entry...

  6. Very interesting...and yes, surprising...assignment. But it's tap into our full potential as writers we sometimes need to combine 'imagination and circumstances' to come up with something unique.